A History of Laurinburg, North Carolina

Scotland County Court House - Laurinburg, North Carolina

Although not incorporated until 1877, Laurinburg is said to have had its beginning as far back as 1785 when the first families settled on the present town site. The name of the town was first written with an h -- Laurinburgh -- and was pronounced by some, "Laur-in-boro." The post office was first called Laurinburgh, but later the "h" was dropped. The "Laurin," of course, came from the prominent McLaurin family. As late as 1840, there were only three dwellings, a store, a saloon, and a few shacks in the town. A private school was established in 1852 and the town seemed to grow rapidly after that. As a matter of fact, the school was named Laurinburgh High School, and it was from the school that the town took its name. For some reason, the Act incorporating Laurinburg used still another spelling, "Laurenburg."

Mr. Washington Gill was the mayor of the new town. His home has been preserved and restored. It was also the home of Edwin Gill, long-time Treasurer of North Carolina. In 1899, Laurinburg became the county seat for the newly-created Scotland County.

The Laurinburgh High School stood along what is now Caledonia Road, north of the Church Street intersection. Some of the older houses along this road were made from parts of the school buildings after they were no longer in use. One of these houses was the boyhood home of Terry Sanford, who served as both governor of North Carolina and as United States Senator. Of course, this was many years after the days of the Laurinburgh High School. Incidentally, the home in which Mr. Sanford was born has been torn down. It stood on West Church Street.

Laurinburg is said to have had its beginning with the store and blacksmith shop, which were near where our older water tank now stands. This is very near the site of the high school mentioned earlier.

Another point of interest in Laurinburg is the county’s new court house, built in 1964. The county’s first court house was built in 1901, facing Main Street where the A. B. Gibson Education Center now stands. Court was first held in a rented building, and Judge Walter Neal, whose picture now hangs in the courtroom, held the first term of criminal court in the county the week of November 18, 1901.

On the grounds of the new court house are two monuments of historical interest, which were moved from the old court house grounds. The Confederate Monument is typical of many erected in the South in the years following the American Civil War. Public subscriptions were taken for it, and it was originally placed in the center of the street at the intersection of Church and Main Streets. As automobiles became more common, it proved to be quite a traffic hazard and was moved to the court house grounds. The Quakenbush Monument honors William Graham Quakenbush, who was principal of Laurinburgh High School from 1879 to 1900. In fact, the school was locally known as "The Quakenbush School." Mr. Quakenbush was not only a beloved educator, but he was also one of the leaders in the movement to form Scotland County. North Carolina’s Education Governor, Charles Brantley Aycock, spoke at the dedication of the monument. Recently, a monument has been erected to honor Scotland County veterans of all wars.

Laurinburg’s Main Street is a point of historical interest in itself. It is difficult to look down Main Street now and visualize the scene described by residents in the late 1880s and early 1890s. There were about fifteen grocery or general stores and at least thirteen of them sold whiskey. Some of the ladies of the town hesitated to venture downtown alone because of the boisterous behavior along the street. Mrs. Nettie Henley described the situation well in her book, The Home Place: "A good many decent people lived in Laurinburg, but women-folk generally thought of Main Street about the same way as the movies show western frontier towns. The young sports would brag, ‘There are thirteen barrooms, and I had a drink in every one of them last Saturday.’"

The stores along the main street were operated by some of the town’s most prominent citizens. Mr. John F. McNair started his business at Springfield and Laurel Hill, and later moved it to Laurinburg’s Main Street in 1872. Mr. McNair was a prominent businessman with far-reaching interests in land, textiles, banking, and other enterprises. Mr. Walter Evans, a black man, was another important Main Street merchant. He opened a clothing store, which specialized in good quality shoes. Mr. Evans was also a highly respected businessman with holdings in land and other property. The Everett Brothers and Gill Store was one of the most prosperous on Main Street. Everington’s Drug Store is also one of the older Main Street businesses, started in 1882. Laurinburg’s Main Street even boasted an opera house. The upstairs of the building at the corner of Main and Roper Streets was used for traveling shows and for community events, and was known as The Opera House.

In the early days, Main Street was dirt. It was paved in 1914. Main Street has been the scene of many interesting parades, including the 1910 Fourth of July parade. Many ordinances, such as this one, had to do with Main Street and the other streets of the town: "No horse or mule driver shall turn his stock loose on the public street on Sunday between the hours of 8 a.m. and 2 p.m."

In 1883, the town’s charter was amended to include these among other provisions: "That the commissioners shall have power to prohibit by penalties the riding or driving of horses or other animals in a careless or dangerous manner, or at a greater speed than five miles per hour... That the commissioners shall have power to declare it unlawful for any horses, mules, cattle, hogs, sheep, goats, and dogs to run at large."

The railroad has always played an important part in the history of Laurinburg and the county. In 1855, it was announced that the Wilmington, Charlotte & Rutherfordton Railroad would come through, and the first trains ran in 1861, just in time to take a group of young men to fight in the Civil War. During the war, the railroad moved its shops from Wilmington to Laurinburg. The Union fleet was concentrating a good deal of its effort on Fort Fisher, guarding the town of Wilmington at the mouth of the Cape Fear River, and the management felt that the shops would be safer inland. Railroad officials first located the shops here with the idea that they would be here for just a short time. However, they later purchased additional land, and the shops did stay until 1894. Many people in the town lived in fear that when the shops left, the entire economy of the area would collapse. Mr. Maxey John describes the feelings in his history:

"During all these years the fear of disaster should the shops move, was so apparent that even those who were able to build largely and permanently refused to do so, or as one of our citizens put it when his contractor told him he was planning a home he did not want, the owner said: ‘Build it so that if the shops leave and my business should be so crippled that I shall have to go, too, that I will lose as little as possible in selling out'."

Fortunately, soon after the shops left, the textile industry started to move into the town. The railroad shops were instrumental in bringing prosperity and economic activity to help Laurinburg get started. The railroad continued to be an important part of the community. In the first half of the century, hundreds of car loads of cantaloupes and watermelons were shipped by rail from Laurinburg and the surrounding towns. In fact, Laurinburg called itself the Capital of the Cantaloupe World.

Another title Laurinburg has given itself is "The City of Beautiful Trees," and efforts have been made from the town’s beginning to preserve our distinctive trees. An early ordinance read: "No person shall willfully, carelessly, or negligently damage or destroy any of the shade trees."

Laurinburg received a good deal of national attention some years ago with the story of Cancetto Farmica, known locally as "Spaghetti." Farmica, a carnival worker, was killed in 1911. The family never came to claim the body, and it was held by a local funeral home until it was buried in 1972. During the years, the body became a kind of tourist attraction.

Laurel Hill was granted a U.S. Post Office on February 20, 1804 in Richmond County, and its first Postmaster was John McFarland. The name was changed to Laurinburgh on March 6, 1855, and its first Postmaster was Daniel C. McIntire. In 1893, the Post Office Department changed the name to Laurinburg, dropping the "h." In 1899, the Post Office of Laurinburg was now in Scotland County. It has been in continuous operation ever since inception.

© 2007 - J.D. Lewis - PO Box 1188 - Little River, SC 29566 - All Rights Reserved